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Another coaching opening (and more all-pros)

Posted by Darren Urban on January 15, 2018 – 3:01 pm

The Cardinals, Giants, Lions and Colts still have coaching vacancies, but this morning, the Titans added themselves to the list when they and coach Mike Mularkey agreed to part ways. The rules say coaches still in the postseason can only interview again next week if they had been interviewed once already, but Ian Rapoport tweeted that meant any coach who had been interviewed period, not just by the Titans. So they have a small window for the Super Bowl coaches. Obviously, by next week, there will be only two teams left playing.

Also Monday came a bunch of reports of coaches heading places, none official yet but certainly more strong than previously. With those reports, Pats DC Matt Patricia will coach the Lions, the Giants have Pat Shurmur as their frontrunner and the Colts would get Josh McDaniels. There have been no such reports on the Cards (or the Titans, obviously). Patricia and Shurmur were both on the Cards’ candidate list and it was reported that the Cards like Shurmur. It will be interesting to see if the Cards get any more clarity this week.

— The Pro Football Writers of America released its all-pro team today, and like the Associated Press all-pro team, linebacker Chandler Jones and special teamer Budda Baker made it for the Cardinals.


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As expected, Larry Fitzgerald waits for coach news

Posted by Darren Urban on January 12, 2018 – 2:26 pm

Larry Fitzgerald hasn’t yet made a decision about playing this season or not. It was easy to figure that he couldn’t make a choice without knowing who the coach would be, and Fitz confirmed that Friday during an NBC Golf interview.

“I don’t have a head coach right now so there is a lot going on,” Fitzgerald said. “I’m going to take some time, figure it out. Our owner and president, Michael Bidwill, and General Manager Steve Keim are out right now interviewing head coaches. I’m interested to see what is going to happen and I’ll make a decision shortly after (they get a coach), I would imagine.”

It seems that this time of year, Fitz often talks about his future on the golf course. It makes sense, since a) his future has been up in the air in January and b) Fitz’s time in public in January is usually on the golf course. (And Fitz will be out doing things at the Phoenix Open in a couple of weeks too.) Again, there is a holding pattern that was going to be expected while the Cards sort out the coaching situation. Then Fitz can get an idea not only of personality but also how how he might be used in a new system.

UPDATE: Later in the day, Fitz had an interview with the NFL Network. His retirement has nothing to do with Bruce Arians and Carson Palmer, he stressed, and “I’ll go as long as I feel I can play at a high level.”


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Seeking QB without QB is new for Cardinals

Posted by Darren Urban on January 11, 2018 – 4:55 pm

Michael Bidwill mentioned the other day — after Bruce Arians and Carson Palmer had announced their retirements — that the Cardinals didn’t have a coach or a quarterback in 2013 for a time, and that worked out OK. So being without both right now is not a concern. The coach situation will be sorted out sooner rather than later, and then comes the QB. What exactly will happen is TBD, in part based on whoever the coach will be. Besides, a shift in QBs (with Palmer’s retirement) is often coming with a new coach.

The Cards were looking for a new QB in 2013 as Bidwill noted, but unlike now when the non-Palmer QBs all have expiring contracts — Drew Stanton, Blaine Gabbert and Matt Barkley — the Cards actually did have quarterbacks they could have kept in 2013 when Arians arrived. They actually had four as free agency began.

Kevin Kolb, beat up as he was, was due a big contract. John Skelton was still around, as was Ryan Lindley, and the Cardinals even extended a tender offer to restricted free agent Brian Hoyer for 2013. When Stanton signed as a free agent the second day that was possible, the Cards basically had four QBs. A couple of days later, the team let Kolb go. When Hoyer finally signed his tender offer on April 1, the team released Skelton. Palmer arrived the next day in trade. Hoyer was later released in mid-May. Lindley stuck around as the third QB that season.

There is much more up in the air right now. There is no pat hand to play, unless one or more of the FAs-to-be get an extension — which could happen. There were at least placeholders back in 2013, had the Cards not found what they wanted.


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Arians: “Too much to live for to die on the sideline”

Posted by Darren Urban on January 9, 2018 – 10:16 pm

Bruce Arians was doing the media tour Tuesday, talking with both Rich Eisen and Colin Cowherd a week after retiring and mentioning he’d like to get into the media business. I can’t imagine someone won’t be willing to give him a chance. During his appearance on the “Rich Eisen Show,” Arians talked again about retirement, touching on familiar subjects with some more detail.

— He admitted his 2016 health scares “were eye opening.” He didn’t want cancer to drive him out of the game, and he was able to return. But there was concern for both himself and his wife, Chris.

“The stress of being a coach’s wife, of watching my health go up and down with wins and losses,” Arians said. “I knew I was done too, I was, ‘Yeah, you’re right, there’s too much to live for to die on the sideline.”

— He reiterated he knew he was done in the last game in Seattle when Phil Dawson made his field goal and then Blair Walsh missed. But he acknowledged the family had talked about it as far back as the weekend after the Thursday night home loss to Seattle. “My wife, she was done,” Arians said. “God bless her, 47 years in this business is enough.” (Arians had previously written he was considering staying one more year and renting an apartment if his wife went back to their “forever home” in Georgia.)

— He remains bullish on the Cardinals being a contender, and that GM Steve Keim will find the right coach and make the right roster moves. “I think the Cardinals can win a championship,” he said. “The talent is here.”

— That said, he admitted he was hoping defensive coordinator James Bettcher (who interviewed last week for the head coach opening) was the one who ends up with the job. Calling himself “selfish,” Arians said “I want to be able to go back and be a small part of it” and apparently he feels that would be the case if Bettcher was his replacement.

— As for Larry Fitzgerald, Arians said he thinks he will come back “with the right situation.” It isn’t a surprise that it would include the right coach and system, and the right quarterback.

 


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Coach patience, and the dates of hire

Posted by Darren Urban on January 9, 2018 – 11:41 am

Michael Bidwill said he isn’t in any rush to hire a new coach, nor did he want to be. It’s not so much about going slow as much as not speeding into the wrong decision. Since I started covering the Cardinals full-time (at the time, the Tribune) back in 2000, this will be the fifth head-coaching hire. Vince Tobin was in place when I got the beat covering the team. He didn’t even last until mid-season before he was let go and Dave McGinnis was made interim boss. Here are the dates on which the hires of the four previous head coaches were official:

— McGinnis, Dec. 19, 2000 (He had the interim tag removed before season’s end.)

— Dennis Green, Jan. 7, 2004

— Ken Whisenhunt, Jan. 14, 2007

— Bruce Arians, Jan. 17, 2013

Every search is different, obviously. Of that list, only Arians was coming off a staff that had made the playoffs — and the Colts had lost Wild Card weekend — so they were all available fairly quickly. Of the current list of coaches the Cardinals have talked to, most (as of today) are still in the playoffs, and it’s possible the desired choice will remain in the postseason beyond this weekend. One interesting date to consider coming up: Senior Bowl week begins Jan. 22. Will there be Cardinals’ coaches there, or just scouts?


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Rams loss means rare early NFCW exit

Posted by Darren Urban on January 6, 2018 – 10:22 pm

Since the Cardinals moved into the NFC West during the great NFL realignment of 2002, the division has had its ups and downs. There were a few seasons in which the division winner won less than double-digits (the Cardinals made the Super Bowl in 2008 after going 9-7 but running away with a division title) or even sub-.500 (the Seahawks going 7-9 but becoming NFCW champs in 2010.)

But Saturday night, as the West champions Los Angeles Rams — the only division team to make the postseason — lost at home to the Falcons after an 11-5 season, it meant that for the first time since that 2002 realignment, an NFC West team did not reach at least the Divisional round of the playoffs.

Even in those “down” years, the NFCW survived the Wild Card round. The Cards in 2008, that alleged “worst team to ever make the playoffs,” won the NFC Championship. Even that 7-win Seattle team, through the “BeastQuake” game, advanced to the next round. (The NFC West streak goes back further, in fact, prior to the Cardinals’ arrival, thanks to the Greatest Show on Turf Rams.)

Funny enough, the NFC West was one of only two divisions (the NFC South being the other) to have at least three teams finish at least .500 or better, thanks to the Cardinals’ two-game winning streak to close the season.


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Talking coaches, roster and a podcast

Posted by Darren Urban on January 4, 2018 – 3:18 pm

The Cardinals will be conducting coaching interviews on the road over the next few days as they move toward finding a new football boss. When it comes to the idea that Michael Bidwill pointed out yesterday — that he wanted potential coaches to have a chance to visit Arizona and the team’s Tempe facility and interact with staff — I don’t think we are talking about every single person. My guess is that you’d have to have caught the Cardinals’ eye. If the initial interview doesn’t intrigue Bidwill or GM Steve Keim, I don’t see it going further necessarily. But we will see. It’s always an interesting time of year when a potential coach could end up being busy into February if his team makes it to the Super Bowl, and then having his “new” team having to wait it out. Could that be the Cards?

— My annual roster breakdown can be found right here. It gives the contract status of virtually everyone, so yes, it includes who will be free agents in March.

— Our weekly Cardinals Underground podcast is right here. I believe it’s always a good listen with myself, Kyle Odegard and Paul Calvisi (so if you can, get in the habit of checking us out, assuming you don’t already.) This week’s episode has a special treat at the end: A “Best of Bruce Arians” soundbites montage put together by Jim Omohundro. It was certainly an interesting five years.


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The workload of the Honey Badger

Posted by Darren Urban on January 3, 2018 – 1:10 pm

Even Tyrann Mathieu had hoped he would’ve played a little better this season, but he did improve as the season went on and was healthy. And not only was the Honey Badger healthy, he played a lot. It’s remarkable that the safety, who didn’t play a full season until this year, ended up leading the entire NFL in snaps played.

Mathieu finished with 1,263 snaps on the field — 1,058 on defense and another 207 on special teams. That topped Tennessee cornerback Adoree Jackson’s 1,258 (1,022 on defense, 224 on special teams, and 12 on offense.) There were a handful of players who played more on defense (including former teammates and safeties Tony Jefferson and D.J. Swearinger) but that was in part because the Cardinals’ sixth-ranked defense was able to get off the field more often. It wasn’t like Mathieu rested much. He sat out only six defensive snaps all season.

Five Cardinals played at least 1,000 snaps this season — Mathieu, Chandler Jones, Patrick Peterson, A.Q. Shipley (who played 100 percent of the Cards’ 1,124 offensive snaps) and Larry Fitzgerald.

But the other four don’t grab the attention as much as Mathieu, who truly maximized his first season of total health.


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As he leaves, Carson Palmer aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on January 2, 2018 – 4:59 pm

There were rumblings in the 2013 offseason that the Cardinals might try to trade for Carson Palmer, and I didn’t see it happening at first. The team needed draft capital to build in the first offseason of Steve Keim and Bruce Arians. When the trade finally did happen, it was for nothing, really. Whatever Palmer might have been at the time, even if he wasn’t the same QB he once was, it was still amazing the Cards essentially got him for dropping 43 spots late in the 2013 draft and giving up a late seventh-round pick in 2014.

Such is the price for success, huh?

In a lot of ways, Palmer was Kurt Warner 2.0, arriving in the desert for a rebirth. He didn’t quite reach the heights of Warner in terms of a Super Bowl appearance, but he did get to an NFC Championship game. Palmer had 16,782 passing yards and 105 TDs with a 91.1 passer rating in 60 games with the Cards, Warner was 15,843-100-91.9 in 61 games. As good as Warner was, he was never in the MVP conversation any year with the Cards, not like Palmer deservedly was in 2015. When Palmer had time to throw — and his receiving corps was at its best — he was an excellent quarterback.

Maybe we will never know just how much his finger was bothering him in the 2015 playoffs (he insisted it wasn’t a factor, and there are reasons to think it both was and was not.) We definitely will never know how exactly how that 2014 season or 2017 would have turned out if Palmer hadn’t gotten hurt. Seeing how good the Cards were in 2015, and how well they played in 2014 even when Drew Stanton was QB, you have to think 2014 was a missed opportunity.

But two intangible things always struck me about Palmer. One was his love of the process. I still think his great 2015 season, coming off the 2014 ACL tear, was built from an offseason in which Palmer embraced wholeheartedly in large part because he simply enjoyed it. It was hard coming off a serious knee injury, but he used the time to improve other aspects of his game — leading to an MVP-type year — and legit had fun doing it.

The other was Palmer’s leadership. Quarterbacks are mostly natural leaders. It’s tough to make it to this level at that position otherwise. But if you drew up the guy who you wanted to lead your team, Palmer was all of that. The way he carried himself, the way he handled success and failure — “He was the most resilient guy I’ve ever coached,” Bruce Arians said. “Bad play, good play. Good play, next play” — the way he made teammates want to play with him and for him. He was private yet he was good talking to people like me, understanding exactly what we were looking for in a quote even when the question might not have been the best.

A couple of seasons ago, Palmer said he wouldn’t mind playing 10 more years — after Tom Brady had said the same — knowing it wasn’t going to happen. He had too many young kids that he wanted to devote more time to, and after 15 years, getting beat up every week wasn’t very attractive anymore. The Cards are without a quarterback again, and the one that is leaving was pretty good.


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As he leaves, Bruce Arians aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on January 1, 2018 – 7:00 pm

Bruce Arians was the Cardinals’ coach for a day or two when I happened to be in his office as he taped a video for a banquet back in his home state of Pennsylvania. I don’t recall who it was for, but I do recall that Arians got choked up delivering the lines. He admitted he was an emotional sort. It was not only an explanation, but it turned into a promise. And there he was Monday, in his final press conference, choking up again. In between, there was plenty of emotion — tears and otherwise.

B.A. had confidence. Whether he would’ve been like that 10 years ago as a coach (I suspect yes) or if it was the fact it had taken so long to get a head coaching job right as he got to the end of his career, he always was going to do it the way he wanted. That’s who the Cards hired. He won games that way, he made gutsy calls, he did things that frustrated fans. Oh, and he was incredibly entertaining all the while.

Just the other day he was talking about how close he had been in Pittsburgh with fellow Steelers assistant Ken Whisenhunt — the man he just happened to surpass as the Cardinals’ all-time winningest coach, and the man who tried to hire Arians on his Cardinals’ staff at one point — and how much he liked to trash talk the Steelers defense in practice. That carried over. When Arians stepped to the podium Sunday night and said with that crooked smile he’d often have, “Thanks for coming to my house,” that was the essence of Arians.

In an article B.A. co-wrote for The Athletic with Lars Anderson — the author of B.A.’s book — he noted he considered many different options for 2018, including coaching:

“I feel like we have so much unfinished business here with the Cardinals—the last two seasons have been major disappointments because we’ve failed to make the playoffs—and I considered renting an apartment next year in Phoenix, living alone, and making one final charge at the Super Bowl.”

Instead, the pull of family, and his grandchildren, were too much, and choosing to retire is a very human thing to do. So many coaches leave jobs claiming family when, in the end, they are just looking for a different job. In this case, it was family that truly pulled Arians from the game.

On a personal level, I have covered and interviewed many coaches (on many levels, in many sports) over the 27 years or so I’ve been writing sports. Some have been difficult, many have been good to work with. But, especially on the professional level, anyone covering B.A. understands it will never get any better. You could ask Arians any question. He may or may not answer or be detailed, although most of the time, he was very good.

In the end, Arians won. The last two years were not what he or anyone in the organization wanted. But that the Cards finished 8-8 given their injuries was remarkable, and it also says something about where the Cardinals are when .500 (or 7-8-1) is such a disappointment. GM Steve Keim said today he expects to make a couple of moves and still compete in 2018. He’s got to hope he brings in a coach that can be as good as his last hire.


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